The novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen subsist wit, humor, and irony in such a balance that many consider the author’s best novel.
With only six novels in her lifetime, Jane Austen’s most works have successfully drawn the readers’ attention because of their intrinsic qualities.
English playwright Somerset Mangham emphasized Pride and Prejudice’s significance in his critical book, Great Novelists and their Novels:
“The great mass of readers, I believe, has accepted Pride and Prejudice as her (Jane Austen’s) masterpiece, and in such a case, I think it’s well to accept their judgment. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that Pride and Prejudice is, on the whole, the most satisfactory of all the novels for its fascinating qualities.”Somerset Mangham, An English Playwright, Novelist, and Short Story Writer.
Such wide popularity is due to its brilliant wit, genial humor, and real irony.
Pride and Prejudice Is Comparable with Much Ado About Nothing
It is a fact that the novel does not contain stormy passion and high tragedy of emotional life. However, for its craft and artifice, incomparable freshness, and sharp outline, one can compare it with the drama of Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing.
In Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick, and Beatrice, the witty hero and heroine, who hate each other at the beginning of the play, end up marrying each other. Similarly, we have Darcy and Elizabeth representing ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ and their ultimate union.
Wit And Humor Elements in Pride and Prejudice
In Pride and Prejudice, we have a perfect comedy of manners presented in a spirit of amusement derived from bitterness. The excellence of the novel rests a more significant part on the witty dialogue. The wit has compensated the paucity of action in dialogues; wit sparkles the characters of Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennet.
Elizabeth’s witty exchange with Darcy is amusing, but Mr. Bennet’s remarks and replies to his wife’s queries are sharp and scathing. The dull situations are rendered highly investing through the witty dialogues of the characters. Kitty was coughing when Mrs. Bennet talked to her husband about his indifference towards the family’s interest.
At this, Mrs. Bennet lost temper with Kitty,
“Don’t keep coughing so, Kitty, for Heaven’s sake; have a little compassion on my nerves, you tear them to prices.”Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.
Kitty’s father meddled,
“Kitty has no discretion in her cough,” “she times them ill.”Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.
Kitty replied fretfully,
“I do not cough for my own amusement.”Kitty, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s daughter, Pride and Prejudice.
When Mrs. Bennet approaches her husband to persuade Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet answers:
“I have not the pleasure of understanding you, said he, when she finished her speech of what are you talking?”Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.
Mr. Bennet’s sparkling wit has been a source of enjoyment throughout the novel. Mrs. Bennet wants Elizabeth to accept the proposal of Mr. Collins; failing which she says,
“Yes, I will never see her again.”Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.
To this warning, Mr. Bennet replies sharply,
“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth from this day, you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice.
The conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth is equally perceptive of wit.
“Jane Austen’s attitude toward life as presented in her novels,” says a critic, “is of a humorist.”
Undoubtedly, Jane is a comedian; from the beginning to the end of her creative life, she retains humor, but humor becomes an integrated part of her writing towards the end of her life. Humor is in the same tone of her language. For this, critics describe her language to be poetic replete with humor.
However, Jane’s humor is genial and amusing. It is free from the bitterness of malice.
“I dearly love a laugh.”Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
It is equally applicable to her creator. She laughs at follies and nonsensical whims and inconsistencies. However, this is confined to a particular class, namely, the upper-middle class, and her range is limited to family life only. Her pleasant humor has become very much effective in bringing out the specialties of her characters.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen never leaves the realm of comedy. A.C. Bradley has rightly remarked,
“There are two great distinct strains in Jane Austen. She is a moralist and a humorist.”A. C. Bradley, English Literary Scholar and Critic.
Sense of Irony in Pride and Prejudice
One of the essential elements of the novel is Jane’s profound sense of irony. She has made varied use of irony, contrasting between reality and appearance. There are two kinds of irony- verbal and rhetorical.
Irony shows the contrast between the apparent, i,e the surface meaning of a statement and its real intended meaning. The novel’s theme presents the contrast between ‘Intricacy and simplicity as those terms apply to personality.” Darcy and Elizabeth are intricate characters; Jane and Bingley are simple.
If we read carefully, we find irony at different levels in the novels- irony of situations, characters, and verbal irony. The examples of the irony of situations are evident in the proposals of marriages. Collins proposes to Elizabeth when her heart is full of Wickham; Darcy proposes when she hates him the most.
The departure of the militia from Merylon was expected to part an end to Lydia’s flirtation; it brings about her elopement. Both Darcy and Elizabeth do not like each other. They hold prejudice against each other because of their pride, unite in marriage at last. The very first sentence of the novel is noteworthy as an example of verbal irony.
The novel Pride and Prejudice is a vital record of what its writer has thought and felt about society.
Although limited in range, it faithfully holds up a mirror to the society she lived in, and it can be said without any hesitation that she has successfully reached her goal.